scholarship in the service of virtue and vocation

The Arete Initiative sponsors scholarship and learning opportunities focused on recovering and sustaining the virtues in contemporary life, especially in the workplace, the university, and the public square.
Arete is a Greek word that connotes moral virtue or, more broadly, human excellence. How do we recognize virtue or excellence? Answers to that question depend on what we understand to be the purpose, or telos, of human being, a question often neglected in contemporary ethical discourse. The Arete Initiative actively investigates the characteristics of a life well lived and invites reflection on the nature and purpose of human being.
The Arete Initiative serves the Duke community by sponsoring research, conferences, classes, and other learning opportunities that help participants to discern the shape of human excellence as well as pathways to foster virtue in the varied concrete circumstances of contemporary life. The initiative’s focus on intellectual virtues helps to foster productive environments for the exchange of ideas between parties who disagree. The initiative’s focus on human agency and vocation encourages participants to identify and engage in practices that make human flourishing possible, while also offering the conceptual tools to help people make better life choices, an issue of particular importance for university students. 


Dr. Farr Curlin serves as the Director of the Arete Initiative and is a hospice and palliative care physician who joined Duke University in January 2014. He holds joint appointments in the School of Medicine, including its Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine, and in Duke Divinity School, including its Initiative on Theology, Medicine and Culture. He works with Duke colleagues to foster scholarship, study, and training regarding the intersections of medicine, ethics, and religion.After graduating from medical school, he completed internal medicine residency training and fellowships in both health services research and clinical ethics at the University of Chicago before joining its faculty in 2003. Dr. Curlin’s empirical research charts the influence of physicians’ moral traditions and commitments, both religious and secular, on physicians’ clinical practices. As an ethicist, he addresses questions regarding whether and in what ways physicians’ religious commitments ought to shape their clinical practices in a plural democracy.


John Rose serves as the Associate Director of the Arete Initiative and is an Instructor at the Kenan Institute for Ethics.  John’s research concerns the tradition of virtue ethics and Christian theology. Originally from Iowa, John holds a B.A. in Religion from Wabash College, an M.T.S. from Duke Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary.



Upcoming Events

Jul. 9-14, 2018 – High School Ethics Summer Seminar

The “Arete Summer Seminar in Ethics, Philosophy, and Religion at Duke University” will aim to prepare high school students with a “tool kit” for approaching these subjects in college, offering them a roadmap of sorts. Plato and Aristotle will be primary interlocutors along with a number of other great minds. The seminar will examine the meaning of virtue, the substance of human nature, the question of human flourishing, the metaphysics of reality, and the nature of “truth.” Students will also discuss the ideas of natural law, the relationship between philosophy and theology, and the relationship between science and religion. These topics will be taken up in the context of assigned literature, works of theology, and some readings from modern analytic philosophers. Students will receive a reading packet by mail prior to the seminar and will be expected to have read the material beforehand.

More information here.


Jun. 25 – 29, 2018 – Arete Medical Ethics Summer Seminar

This seminar invites students to examine the central ethical questions that arise in the everyday practice of medicine and to interpret those questions through a moral framework drawing from both natural law and medicine’s traditional orientation toward the patient’s health. This framework will be contrasted with principlism and consequentialism as participants consider what sort of practice medicine is, whether it has a rational end or goal, and how medicine contributes to human flourishing.

The seminar will consider common clinical ethical cases to examine perennial ethical concerns that arise in the practice of medicine, including: the nature of the clinician-patient relationship; the limits of medicine, the meaning of autonomy, the place of conscience in the physician’s work, the difference between an intended effect and a side effect, proportionality, human dignity, sexuality and reproduction, the beginning of life, disability, end-of-life care, and death. The purpose of the seminar is to equip participants with intellectual tools that can help physicians discern how to practice medicine well in the face of medicine’s clinical challenges and moral complexities.

More information here.


Past Events

Feb. 6, 2018 – So You Want to be a Good Attorney? Reflections on Human Flourishing in the Study and Practice of Law

The process of law school education is a time of moral formation for students but not always for the better. How should entering students be aware of this and respond accordingly? Second, many undergraduates desire to attend law school and become attorneys for noble reasons—to do social justice work or environmental law, for instance. But the fact is that, after being saddled by law school debt, many newly minted attorneys realize that, for practical purposes, “big law” is their only real option. Given this, how should this vast majority see their legal careers in an ethical light? How can the concept “legal ethics” be expanded to include more than merely pro bono work or following the correct protocol in one’s legal practice? What, in other words, about the everyday, “mundane” work of being a lawyer? How is it an opportunity for growing in virtue? And how can we understand it within a wider context or philosophy of human flourishing? In the context of these questions, four Duke Law professors will discuss the opportunities for and potential threats to human flourishing and moral excellence in the process of legal school education and the practice of law.

More information here.

Jan. 29, 2018 – Embrace the Pain: Living with the Repugnant Cultural Other

We  live an age of political polarization.

Those who disagree with us are often viewed as not just wrong but as deeply irrational and immoral. Is this a good thing? And what is the proper ethical response to it? What sort of habits of mind and practices should we cultivate in response to this increasing “partyism” and cultural self-segregation? In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton asked her supporters to keep an “open mind” with respect to the coming Trump presidency, but what exactly does that mean?

Professor Alan Jacobs of the Baylor Honors Program will address these and other questions in his public lecture, “Embrace the Pain: Living with the Repugnant Cultural Other,” on January 29th at 5pm in the Holst-Anderson Family Room.

More information here.

Nov. 8, 2017 – So You Want to be a Good Physician?

What sorts of moral formation (or deformation?) can take place in medical school education? What does it mean to see medicine as a “vocation” and how does the practice of medicine have a moral dimension to it? These are hard, important questions that anyone planning on medical school (or already in medical school) should give time to contemplate. Please join us for a public panel in which four experts from medical schools around the country will weigh in on these and other questions.

More information here.[/wpspoiler]